Heroes in Love: Sonia Prina performs arias by Gluck

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COMPOSERS: Gluck
LABELS: Glossa
ALBUM TITLE: Gluck
WORKS: Heroes in Love: arias from Sofonisba, Demofoonte, Demetrio, Semiramide riconosciuta, Ezio, Ippolito, Ipermestra and Telemaco
PERFORMER: Sonia Prina (contralto); La Barocca/Ruben Jais
CATALOGUE NO: GCD 924101

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This Gluck recording offers an exceptional combination of illumination and pleasure-giving. Eight of its 12 operatic items are ‘firsts’ on record, the other four hardly better-known. It offers a sampling largely of Gluck’s earliest years as a successful composer of opera seria, mostly in Italy. As a whole the programme doesn’t just claim attention for rarity value – and for the way it extends further the current rediscovery of Gluck’s pre-Orfeo output, previously entirely neglected – but simultaneously showcases brilliant interpretative confrontations between one of today’s most exciting early opera performers and operatic excerpts with real distinctness of personality in every item.

That performer is Sonia Prina, the Italian contralto by whose vibrant individuality of tone colours and uninhibitedly bold musicianship the 18th-century discography (principally Vivaldi and Handel) has already been greatly enriched. At the same time the venture demonstrates how the young Gluck responded – with sometimes quite startling adventurousness, even quirkiness of style – to the challenge of satisfying the star altos (whether the castratos Giovanni Carestini and Gaetano Guadagni, or the legendary singer-actress Vittoria Tesi) for whom he wrote.

It’s a disc full of fast-flying vocal runs, jagged leaps and show-off turns of melodic phrase, also moments of reflection and starkly simple declamation prefiguring the mature Gluck. The period band La Barocca, under Ruben Jais, matches the singer completely in fieriness of attack. For 18th-century enthusiasts and voice fanciers alike this is, I would say, a must-have CD.

Max Loppert

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Listen to an excerpt from this recording here.